It’s never sounded quite right to me when people talk about finding balance in their lives. Balance conjures images of a produce scale, or a teeter totter, and life just feels too, well, messy, for that metaphor to work for me. I’ve always preferred the image of life as an ecosystem, a complicated, interdependent network of factors that are constantly in motion, constantly adjusting and adapting to delicate shifts in the landscape. A healthy ecosystem is foundational to everything we build on it. If it weakens, the ground can flood, or sink beneath us.
For entrepreneurs, assessing your ecosystem requires a deep and honest dive into all parts of your life. When you ask yourself these questions, don’t give the quick, instinctive answer. Give the hard one.
Are you getting good medical care?
Self-care starts with a competent medical care professional in your corner. Serious athletes wouldn’t dream of pushing themselves to the limit without a doctor’s help to make sure they’re gunning it in sustainable ways. As an entrepreneur, you are likely gunning it, too. Is your health holding up? Your heart? Your lungs? Your cholesterol? Your blood pressure? Your weight?
Do you have someone to help ease the mental burden, like a therapist or consultant?
Once your body is taken care of, it’s time to turn to your brain. Someone skilled in helping you manage the pressures of entrepreneurship is a key member of the team. Jeffrey Hollander, who is most famous for founding Seventh Generation, said, “I’ll always be a relatively good customer of my therapist because I know there’s always more I have to learn. I never feel I’ve learned all I need to know about having a healthy relationship to my work.” Can anyone truly say any different?
Are you on full throttle all the time?
No one can push themselves to the limit all the time. It’s just a matter of time before something breaks down, be it your health, your relationships, your sanity, or your business. Take stock. After an intense push, is there time for recovery? Is there enough of it? A cyclical pattern of rest and activity, rest and activity has driven human endeavors far longer than your company’s been around. And caffeine and—in bleak cases—drugs, can only stave this natural rhythm off for so long.
Do your highs and lows look like a mountain pass, or gently rolling hills?
Hint: You want the latter. If you go from being ecstatic over a great review or investor interest to despondent over a complaint or bad earnings report, you will be exhausted by the ride. No one can manage the turbulence of a mountain pass for that long. Rolling hills will work, though. Or even better, a flat meadow.
Who are your people? Are you getting enough time with them? Are they getting enough time with you?
Whether you are married, have children, have a significant other, or have good friends, know that you need people. The people in your life—outside of your work—have a key role to play in grounding you, in reminding you that you are more than your business, and in helping you unwind. Are you seeing enough of them to be sustained? And are you seeing them enough to sustain them? You cannot take the people in your life for granted, just because you’re a busy entrepreneur. As every morality tale from A Christmas Carol to “Cats in the Cradle” has reminded us, those people might just not be there if you turn your back for too long.